Growing up, my first ever friend was my older brother who is four years older than me. From my earliest memories, it was evident to me that in those four years he had learnt everything there was to know about the world and I was his willing apprentice.
One particular adventure I will always remember as a child – was a trip to the airport. My brother had told me about an epic playground that oversaw the runway as planes took off. However, upon arrival at the airport, I was immediately disappointed. As a child, I had an irrational fear of escalators and needed the help of an adult to guide me onto the first step. There, between our happiness and where we physically stood – was an escalator. My brother came up with a ‘great idea’, why not hold onto the handrail from the outside and ride the escalator to the top? And just as quickly as the idea came we were at the bottom of an escalator and holding onto the handrail with joy as we moved closer to the playground.
In the space of 30 seconds, I had gone on a roller coaster of disappointment to joy, then to immense fear as I turned around to see my brother had let go of the railing and I was alone. It was in that moment as I let go of the handrail and fell to my first ever nose bleed, that my brother earned the nickname ‘Judas Iscariot’.
The scriptures have many beautiful accounts of friendship to ponder as we draw closer to International Friendship Day on 30 July. There are also accounts of friendship that mirror my first ever experience of friendship with my brother. Whatever our experiences are with friendships current or in need of repair, we can all benefit from looking at the examples of St. Philip Neri: Patron Saint of Friendship. With a life that started out in a similar fashion to our founder, St Philip was born into a noble family. However, just like De La Salle, St. Philip responded to a higher calling to serve God in a unique way.
St Philip was a layman when he built friendships with everyone that he came across Rome. He often raised the spirits of those he encountered with this saying he frequented; “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; wherefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.” To bring positivity and light into the lives of others is a gift from God, especially for us today at a time with overwhelming fatigue and missing in person connection.
Following St Philip’s eventual ordination, he continued to befriend others in the most practical ways of using his talents of humour and oratory skills. Like St Philip, we too can offer and extend genuine friendship by sharing our own talents with others, albeit creatively during these strange times.
In a time and age where there are so many choices to be made, when it comes to friendship, St Basil offers a timely reminder of important ingredients in friendships; “He who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”
For any friendships that need mending, may we choose to follow St John Baptist De la Salle’s wisdom to “Put up with the faults of others and be generous towards them.” When forging new friendships may we choose courage and understanding as we get to know people who have different interests to our own. To maintain existing friendships that bless and sustain us, may we choose to follow St Basil’s wisdom and plant kindness to gather love continuously.
Over the years, my first friend and I made different choices that took us to very different places. Difference in places we live, jobs we work in, spiritual wavelengths and priorities. Fortunately for us, in addition to kindness and love, we have another life-giving ingredient in our friendship – forgiveness. As we pause and ponder the significance and blessing of friendships in our lives, we might stop and ask ourselves the following questions.
- How are you looking out for friends and family during this ongoing pandemic?
- What important values do you share with your friends?
- How can you set boundaries with friendships that may feel like a one-way street?
Lydia Avia-Aumua is the Associate Director Young Lasallians, Lasallian Mission Services.
With thanks to the Lasallian Formation for Mission Team of the De La Salle District of Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea (ANZPPNG).